Jon over at Rutgers blog On the Banks obliged me with a Q&A on the Pitt-Rutgers game this week. Here are my questions with his answers. Be sure to check out his site later with my answers to his questions.
1. Rutgers has outscored its opponents 46-6 in the fourth quarter and overtime periods but only 81-79 over the first, second, and third quarters. In your opinion, what's been the difference? Does Rutgers have an 'on' switch it magically flips? Is it a matter of simply wearing down opponents? Or is it something else?
On a whole that's probably not a meaningful statistic. There were a few games where the pass protection improved in the second half (but not last Saturday, when the starting left tackle was injured), and Chas Dodd going in for the second half against Tulane made a big difference.
2. What's the quarterback status for Saturday's game? Is Chas Dodd expected to start again or will we see Tom Savage?
Dodd will start. If Pitt blitzes a lot and the Rutgers OL plays like they did against Army, he may not be able to stay upright and Savage could be forced in. Right now the OL is an anchor weight on everything, but Dodd has done a better job of handling pressure and managing the offense. Mohamed Sanu has also been taking a lot of direct snaps out of the Wildcat formation.
3. Greg Schiano had his breakout 11-2 season in 2006. The team has been extremely underrated as it has won at least eight games every season since then. But since the team has failed to reach ten wins again, what is the opinion on Schiano? Do fans think he can take the team to the next level or have there been grumblings about wanting more?
Greg Schiano is a solid coach who should be at Rutgers for a very long time. He has strengths and weaknesses, as do most in the profession. Schiano has put together good defenses. The problem right now is on the other side of the ball, and there will need to be staff changes if those units do not improve. Rutgers fans are growing very impatient waiting to win their first Big East title, but Schiano's seat is colder than Antarctica.
4. Mohamed Sanu is obviously an extremely unique player garnering hundreds of yards in rushing and receiving each year. This year, he's got six touchdowns, nearly 300 yards receiving, and nearly 300 yards rushing already. Do you see him as an NFL prospect? Even if you don't, if he ever were to play at the next level, where would you project him?
He will play in the NFL as a possession receiver with some additional trick play versatility. Sanu rushing the ball as opposed to playing more of a conventional role has more to do with the team's conventional running game being so ineffective than anything else. He is a phenomenal athlete, and his statistics have been depressed by all of the issues on offense right now. Mohamed could probably play any non-line position. He actually started out at safety during last year's spring practice and looked great there, only moving to receiver out of desperation.
5. The team had a nice win against UCONN and is 1-0 in the conference. Still, there have been struggles in close wins against FIUI and Army and of course the Tulane loss. Does this team have enough to win the conference, even in a year when its down, or do you expect them to fall short?
Rutgers has a very good defense. They not only lost DT Eric LeGrand against Army (a critical reserve who played a lot), but LB Manny Abreu had finally broken out this year and starting living up to his potential, and he is out for a couple weeks. Ka'Lial Glaud is a capable replacement at LB, but now there's no depth behind the starters at LB (due to several other injuries), nor much depth at DT. It should still be good, but LeGrand and Abreu are two critical losses that will hurt.
The problem is on offense, where Rutgers has an awful line. LT Desmond Stapleton is the only starter there who's looked any good. Tom Savage had really regressed this year before getting hurt. Chas Dodd has looked far better than Savage, but he's just a freshman and is bound to stumble at some point. They do have a lot of very impressive young talent at the skill positions who began emerging over the past few games.
They have enough raw talent to win the conference, but not enough experience. If Dodd can play well they have a shot, but that's asking a lot out of a freshman playing behind a bad line. The defense will bail Rutgers out of a few games, but that won't always be enough if the offense continues to struggle as it has.
6. What's your prediction for Saturday?
I think Pittsburgh is a good team who've had their own share of injuries. It was crazy how they were being written off last week for playing a good schedule. A lot of it will boil down to matchups. Pitt's OL isn't quite as bad as ours, but they have their own issues, and will probably resort to a lot of runs and short passes to neutralize the Rutgers rush. RU may be able to pick on Pitt's secondary, but I am worried about protecting Dodd, and don't think they will be able to run the ball.
This has the makings of an ugly, low-scoring game like a lot of the recent Pitt-RU contests. Pitt should have great field position all day if RU can't protect Dodd, and combined with Pitt's running game that will wear out the Rutgers defense. The Panthers have a better field goal kicker too. It could be close because of the factors I mentioned, and Dave Wannstedt's natural tendency to be really conservative. If Pitt loses, it will be because they were too stubborn to blitz enough, and act too conservative late in the game like UConn did a few weeks back. Schiano is the far more aggressive coach, and I think that tendency has swung a few games in this series over the past few years.
7. What impact do you think Eric LeGrand's injury will have on the team for this game and beyond? Do you expect it to fuel the team to do greater things or may the players? Will the players have additional fear of injuries in their head where it could possibly hurt the team? Or, do you expect it to have no impact at all on the field?
I don't think it's possible to predict how that will play out. A couple years back Rutgers had three defensive backs injured in a car accident, and they lost five straight after that. I'm sure there are examples of teams rallying in those situations.
Eric LeGrand was a very good player at nose tackle for Rutgers. Actually, he is slightly better than the starter Charlie Noonan, but Noonan started because they're pretty close and he had more experience. Rutgers loses a valuable starting-caliber player from its rotation, and LeGrand's loss will really hurt in 2011 when he was a lock to start and see heavy minutes. For now, Rutgers has to throw some younger players to the wolves who may not yet be as ready to contribute.
Eric is also a great guy off the field, and an important leader in the locker room. It is hard to imagine a bigger loss for Rutgers than not having LeGrand.